Lamont adds to corporate influence with heavy hitters

April 2, 2019

Gov. Ned Lamont has recruited two more high profile names from his circle of influential corporate insiders to help woo new businesses to the state.

Jim Loree, president and CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Sr., associate dean at the Yale School of Management, have joined the board of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, a nonprofit corporation that has teamed up with the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development to improve the state’s business climate.

Sonnenfeld and Loree join CERC co-chairs Indra Nooyi, the retired CEO of PepsiCo, and Jim Smith, retired CEO of the parent of Webster Bank.

Their recruitment to CERC’s board — which will work in lockstep with newly-minted DECD commissioner David Lehman — is notable because the state has rarely seen such involvement and collaboration between the private sector, academics and state government beyond advisory roles. The role of CERC isn’t to advise the governor, but to actively recruit new companies to the state.

“All the people that are raising their hands, are people that want to be part of this,” Smith said. “We haven’t seen that in a long time in Connecticut: people taking personal responsibility for outcomes in the state ... You have the business community coming together, supporting a governor who is a business person at his core.”

And Lamont has made it clear he’s adept at leveraging his connections in the business world. Whether that translates into companies actually moving into the state is yet to be seen.

“The only way to change a bad reputation is by somebody telling you about the state who you have more confidence in than where you heard the last story,” said Matthew Nemerson, a former longtime economic development official from New Haven who now works as the vice president of corporate development for Butterfly Inc.

“It’s pretty ingenious to have people who themselves can play a role,” he said. “They can be actors in making the state’s economic development strategy work.”

Sonnenfeld, an expert in CEO behavior, corporate governance and leadership, is known for his own extensive network of chief executives. He is the founder and president of the Chief Executive Leadership Institute, a nonprofit educational and research institute that brings hundreds of chief executives together every year.

“He’s just amazing in that he’s like a walking network of all of the centers of influence that you could imagine,” Smith said. “He knows everybody and brings people together amazingly. He’ll bring hundreds of corporate leaders together and he knows everything about all of them. He’ll take tough topics and knit them together in real time in a cohesive and compelling way. He’s great because he can reach out to other people who can be helpful to us.”

Nemerson called Sonnenfeld a “super connector” — a term coined by author Malcolm Gladwell to describe some of the most influential people in the world.

“Jeff may well have the single best corporate CEO Rolodex and list of friends in the whole world,” Nemerson said. “Having him on a board is a big deal for the state ... There’s probably nobody in the world like him. We’re trying to become a center for foundations as well as a center for institutes as well as a center for corporations. It’s hard to imagine anyone else in the world who is on a first-name basis with the major decision makers in every industry.”

Loree joined Stanley Black and Decker — then Stanley Works — as the company’s chief financial officer in 1999. Since then, the company has grown it’s total sales from $2 billion to $14 billion, and increased the New Britain-based company’s market value to $21 billion.

“I think people who are doubling down on Connecticut have the best credibility to make the case for the state,” Nemerson said. “Having a CEO that has a relatively old line but growing and successful business is a strong statement.”

Loree served with Smith on the state’s Commission on Fiscal Sustainability and Economic Growth, which existed from December 2017 to March 2018 and filed a long set if recommendations to improve the state’s economic outlook.

“I refer to him as the persistent voice of competitiveness,” Smith said. “He is continually stressing how important it is to be competitive to have economic growth ... he believes in an industry sector driven approach to both workforce development and business recruitment. He’s iconic in that way and to have him sign on as one of the inaugural business directors is terrific.”

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt